The Doha gathering is another chance for Qatar to enhance its role as a regional broker - with the growing confidence to occasionally break ranks with traditional regional heavyweights Egypt and Saudi Arabia and their Western allies. In January, Qatar hosted a Gaza crisis conference that included two leaders sharply at odds with Washington: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal. The following month, Qatar mediated preliminary talks between Sudan's government and the most powerful Darfur rebel group. But, as a key US ally that hosts 5000 American troops and warplanes, Qatar's rulers will be careful not to step too far from the Western-leaning fold.
High on the agenda for discussion will be concerns at growing Iranian influence in the region, efforts to bring about a renewed Palestinian unity government, and developing a response to the new Netanyahu government in Israel. Few observers predict major achievements for the summit, which reflects the divided nature of the Arab world - riven by a division between pro-western states and states aligning themselves with Iran. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has declined to attend the summit, and instead has sent his minister of legal affairs, Mufid Shehab. The Egyptian decision is being seen as a calculated snub to Qatar, which is increasingly aligning itself with the pro-Iranian bloc. The Egyptians are furious because of Qatari support for Hamas in Gaza, and the hosting by Qatar of a meeting in Doha during the Gaza operation attended by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal. Cairo regards such Qatari actions as both counter-productive and hypocritical, given Qatar's close relations with the US.